This is a guest blog post by former ACE student leader Miwa Lee.
It was during my freshman year at Lincoln Park High School back in 2010 where I first witnessed the ACE Assembly, presented by Sophie Ostlund. While I had some knowledge of climate change beforehand, the presentation really made me conscious of the impact I personally had on the environment—it was a heavy dose of reality. But even though the Assembly laid out eye-opening facts about the current state and possible future of our planet, it ended on a hopeful note and proposed ways I could help. I pledged a DOT (Do One Thing to help the environment) and joined the school’s Ecology Club that year.
In Ecology Club, we worked with ACE on a lot of our major projects and campaigns; the Chicago ACE team always made sure that we had the resources we needed for those projects. I remember running around the school with my other club members conducting energy audits and sorting through garbage for the reducing waste campaign. I also remember all the challenges we faced when implementing these projects. There were many rules and regulations that really limited what we could do. I admit, at times I felt like no matter what we did or planned on doing, nothing would change because it seemed like we didn’t have the power. But working with ACE has definitely destroyed that feeling.
One experience I must talk about is about the time ACE took a group of members from its regions across the country to the 2013 Power Shift. It was the biggest boost in spirit; I had never seen so many passionate youth like me in one place before. It was great meeting the other ACE students and staff, getting to know them and their stories. There were so many inspirational speakers, informational workshops, etc.—I left with so much renewed passion, knowledge, and hope that the fight against climate change isn’t a futile one.
I love how ACE is able to make every student feel important and useful. Before getting involved, I wasn’t sure how someone like me—someone who isn’t all that great at public speaking or writing or being a leader—could be helpful to a movement for affecting any kind of change. I have a thing for the visual arts, so ACE had ways to put my abilities to good use. I became involved with the ACE Media Team and through that, made a couple of info-comics: one was about the role the meat industry plays in perpetuating climate change and the other advocating for the banning of plastic bags. ACE also gave me the opportunities to develop skills that I lacked—especially with leadership. The Leadership Trainings gave me the tools and confidence to be a leader. That experience became especially useful when I was elected Vice President of Ecology Club and became an ACE Ambassador for my school during my junior year. My involvement only increased the following year when I was elected President, as well as participating in ACE’s first Action Fellowship program in Chicago.
During my senior year, I had the honor of working with Page May and a group of talented, like-minded students in ACE’s Action Fellowship program—we were the Sustainable Schools Action Team. I learned a great deal about what it takes to plan out, build, and implement a campaign. I also learned a lot about sustainability and how much environmental issues intersect with social issues. The campaign we worked on was for helping CPS schools reduce their energy use by way of debulbing: Lights Down, Power Up! I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am to have been a part of that team.
All the skills and experiences I accumulated through my time with ACE continues to be valuable to me as I go through college. Currently, I attend Lake Forest College. I am an active member of the campus organization League for Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP). This past school year, LEAP hosted Lake Forest’s first Free-Cycle event. Future plans for LEAP include finding ways to reduce food and garbage waste on campus and increasing recycling efforts. I was recently elected Vice President for another on-campus organization and plan on using that position to collaborate with LEAP to raise more climate awareness.
In the future, I hope to be more heavily involved in the activist community. My main goal is to help bring awareness through art. I’m planning on creating an entire series of educational comics on the science of climate change, issues with fracking, and other environmental issues. I also hope to work with youth on a mural and other various art projects to educate them on climate change, the environment, as well as other important issues that impact their lives the most. If everything falls into place, I would like to continue my education by going to graduate school for environmental policy.
I have to give a shout-out to my high school biology teacher, Rebecca Corrigan, for introducing me to this amazing organization. And I can’t thank Page, Sophie, Leah Qusba, and the rest of the staff at ACE enough for all the opportunities, mentorship, and resources they’ve given me. The Alliance for Climate Education invests so much time and resources into ensuring that students like me can have access to the resources and knowledge that they wouldn’t normally have access to—please support this work.
Miwa Lee is a rising sophomore at Lake Forest College, majoring in Environmental Studies with minors in African American Studies and Art. When she’s not sketching, drawing, or painting, she’s usually looking for reading material that’ll expand her environmental, social, historical, etc. knowledge (and getting around to reading them… eventually). Some of her other interests include cooking, astronomy, and dabbling in various musical instruments. Miwa is also a bit of geek and is always up for a Star Trek marathon.